When working with organizations to produce annual galas, the greatest accomplishment usually leads to the most sizable challenge: How do we make next year’s event even better?! This directive can manifest itself in a variety of ways, but the most common is usually through the stage program. For non-profits the program is an opportunity to communicate mission, recognize award recipients and often times raise money, a crucial trifecta. With a multitude of priorities and stakeholders, executing a successful program can be challenging, so here are five tips to help keep you on the right track.
1. Watch the Clock
Simply put, there’s nothing worse than a program that drags. It leads to guests being disengaged, frustrated, and often times making an early exit. Providing your audience with an understanding of mission is important, as is giving award recipients their due. You can accomplish your objectives however, with an eye on time. Communicate timing expectations on remarks to speakers in advance and always request copies of scripts ahead of time. If you have the budget, consider engaging a professional script writer or utilizing a teleprompter. At the very least, place a small countdown clock downstage to make speakers more conscious of their remaining time. Most importantly, make sure those who are speaking truly have a purpose on stage and are not just satisfying organizational hierarchy. Speaking of organizational hierarchy...
2. Don’t Default to Seniority
When selecting individuals to represent your organization on stage, don’t automatically default to the most senior staff or board members. Instead look to the people connected to your organization who are dynamic orators, compelling narrators, or both. Sometimes these qualities come from the organization’s higher-ups, but not always. Especially in the case of a fundraising moment such as a donation appeal, a captivating speaker who can truly bring to light the mission of the organization will always have the greatest chance of opening wallets.
3. Rehearsal Makes Perfect
Rehearsal is a critical component to any event’s success and should be prioritized accordingly. For those more comfortable speaking in front of a large audience, at the very least have them conduct a sound check and familiarize themselves with the stage. For those who may be less at ease, make the rehearsal more extensive. The more comfortable your speakers are with the stage, sound and lighting conditions, the better the results will be. Another effective practice is to create custom cards to distribute to each speaker as they check in. Ideally these can slide into the back of a name tag and reinforce key times and directions needed for the evening, so everyone is clear headed into the event.
4. No Emcee? No Problem
Just as the right emcee can have a significant impact on your event, the wrong selection can have a similarly negative effect. A strong emcee is comfortable on stage (a necessity!), has a connection to the mission, and ideally has name recognition too. If you have someone who fits the bill that’s fantastic. If not though, don't force it. There are plenty of creative workarounds for a program without an emcee, like the one they used in the 2019 Oscars, and the last thing you want is to have someone who’s supposed to be the prominent face of your program not resonate with your guests.
5. Embrace Change
Don’t be afraid to make changes to your program and experiment with new ideas. If your program takes place during a seated dinner, consider a reception and theater-style ceremony instead. Consider a new set design or refreshed multimedia, or possibly a satellite stage to pique interest. Look to restructure the run of show each year, however subtly, so the experience feels fresh for repeat guests. Been at the same venue for 3 years? It might be time to shake up the location. Whatever changes you put into place, ask for feedback. Post-event surveys are a great way to solicit thoughts from those who attended, and see which ideas clicked and with did not. Make new ideas the norm, and at the very least guests will come to appreciate your creativity and innovation with a desire to return year after year.